Defanging a wolf
Here we go again with more ups and downs regarding North Korea’s threat toward Guam, the U.S. mainland, and the entire whole world. Threats, launches, tweets, drills, pundits and commentators all come and go.
Think it has been bad in the last few months? Imagine living under this constant cycle of threats for the next generation or two. But imagine it growing to truly earth-shattering proportions. Any choice to be made can have dire consequences. But choosing to do nothing — a.k.a. “strategic patience” — has its consequences, as well. That’s the dilemma facing U.S. policy experts and Donald Trump’s advisers.
Those on the “no military option” camp, such as former Obama national security advisor Susan Rice and former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, suggest we should just accept a nuclear North Korea. I believe public statements like this are more likely to stall a peaceful resolution to the nuclear crisis. Even after all the responses, speeches in the UN and tweets from President Trump, Kim Jong Un is not convinced that negotiating a denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is in his interests.
Adopting the strategy of just calming things down temporarily while Kim beefs up his regime’s nuclear capability does not resolve the underlying crisis and leads to a false sense of security. There will be flares-up every six months or so, until one day (probably soon), Kim is completely equipped to destroy the world, just like the U.S. and Russia.
A strategy that would lead to "mutually assured destruction" with North Korea does not seem sound and acceptable. Peaceful denuclearization is the obvious first choice. Limited action is the next best choice. A full-scale conventional war is the last option. A nuclear war is a policy failure under any scenario. But avoiding escalation is the hard part and makes any military option highly risky.
But the ramifications of Kim’s nuclear capability don't end with just avoiding a war. It gives him a leverage in every action he takes. When he provokes with foreign assassinations, shooting down and bombing planes, sinking ships, or unleashing cyberattacks, it makes it harder for the U.S. to respond effectively. He is more likely to escalate all these activities in the future knowing he is protected by his ability to end the world. I don’t care if he’s mad or a sane or a rational actor; I don’t want my life and the future of the world to be decided by the whims of this regime. There is also the potential crisis of nuclear proliferation. The DPRK has sold nuclear weapons technology and sent scientists to other countries, like Syria. Only an Israeli attack ended this in 2007. The DPRK also works on nukes and missile development closely with Iran. That's only going to get worse and will greatly empower Iran. And of course, accepting a nuclear North Korea undermines the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), a cornerstone of global security for decades.
A nuclear DPRK highly increases the likelihood of South Korea and Japan considering a native nuclear program, which would have ramifications on China’s relationship with the region. It would also encourage countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey to develop their own nuclear programs in response to a possible nuclearization of Iran — which is likely follow DPRK’s lead when conditions permits. Iran hasn’t abandoned its goal to build nuclear weapons, otherwise, the Iran nuclear deal wouldn’t have been needed in the first place.
The chances of a nuclear conflict go up dramatically in this scenario. It would be difficult for intelligence agencies to monitor this potential succession of events and maintain a long-term global peace.
So, while the future is impossible to predict, the risks involved with a permanent nuclear and ICBM capable state in North Korea are great. The longer it takes to resolve the crisis, the greater the risks for South Korea, Japan, Guam, the mainland US and the rest of the world.
It would give Kim a chance to back down if China can guarantee his regime survival. But the paranoid and independent-minded Kim might not be willing to outsource his regime’s survival to China. That’s the problem. The irony is, while neither Trump nor the current Kim created this long-term crisis, they are most likely the ones to end it, one way or another. Let’s hope for a clarification of U.S. policy from Trump during his upcoming visit to Asia. If Kim receives it, that is the best hope for peace.
Joseph Meyers, a self-confessed news junkie, is a longtime resident of Tamuning. Send feedback to email@example.com